Playing the Gardiner Gambit

The header picture shows Lord Seaforth with his MacKenzies atop Garlic Hill. His archers are currently harassing the retreating Irish.

Playing through the scenario a few times gave a fairly competitive game each time. The scenario requires the Irish to use the musket and pike option (with a field gun placed in Auldearn). The extended forward deployment placed Minimore’s and the Irish Regiment on the unsheltered crest of Garlic Hill. The command is split since Minimore’s is part of a separate brigade and, therefore, “out of command”.  With MacColla this far forward leading the Irish Regiment (and functioning as a colonel) the rest of his command is also “out of command”. It is a very risky deployment with eight victory points (of thirteen) there for the taking. Particularly risky since the first line of the Covenanters are very good troops.

The Covenanters, of course have their own problems to deal with. Their front is very constricted and they have a fairly rough slog to their objective. On two occasions the leading brigade failed their group activation trying to cross Auldearn Burn which prevented the rest from moving, effectively losing their turn.


MacColla has brought O’Cahan’s musketeers off Castle Hill to support his withdrawal toward Auldearn. Unfortunately, Minimore’s has just broken (heavily attacked by both Lawer’s horse and foot). His Irish muskets and pikes are now outnumbered three to one by the Covenanter regulars.

The best tactic I have found for MacColla is to get the Royalist units back to a more defensible position. Attacking forward proved to be a disaster but he was twice able to make a credible fighting retreat to the better protected eastern slope of Garlic Hill.


The hard pressed Irish are making a discipline withdrawal toward Auldearn (the dashed red line marking their position).

If MacColla can delay the Covenanters long enough and the Gordons can take the Covenanters in their exposed flank, the battle can be fought on Garlic Hill (but likely the Royalists will end up losing on victory points). Retreating toward Auldearn is more sensible, but difficult.


Losing Minimore’s on its flank, the Irish Regiment finds it difficult to disengage. They came up short trading double volleys with Loudan’s and Lothian’s and were finished off by the MacKenzie bowmen. MacColla was grazed by an arrow but managed to join Manus O’Cahan’s musketeers (who are now themselves disengaging back up the steep slopes of Castle Hill). While the Irish fall apart, Sir Mungo Campbell leads his excellent regiment in a rapid advance and are nearing the now lightly defended village. His exhausted horse follow behind him.


Sometime later, Lawer’s has been checked by MacColla’s Lifeguard, who fight desperately to prevent Sir Mungo from entering the backcourts of Auldearn. MacColla meanwhile has gotten O’Cahan’s into position to defend the village kirk. The Irish have manned the field gun and are firing (with little effect) on Lawer’s horse.

Suddenly the Gordons arrive. They had been trying to work deeper against Covenanter right flank but Montrose decided (the♦️King ) they were needed to hold Auldearn. While this brings much needed relief to the defenders, the Gordon horse are severely hemmed in by the Dead Wood.


In the center Lawer’s has finally routed the Lifeguard and threatens to split the Royalists in two. The field gun is rotated and is firing case shot into Lawer’s flank, causing some casualties, including a light wound to Sir Mungo. Montrose coolly leads the Strathbogie Foot into position and Lord Gordon leads his horse into the advancing Lothian’s who stalwartly drive him back.

The battle has now reached the crisis. There is a struggle along the entire front as the Royalists try despertly to gain some breathing room. Sir Mungo continues to wedge between the the Royalist flanks and prepares to attack Montrose from his flank.


In the foreground, succeeding waves of Covenanter foot surge forward to assist their brethren while their fresh cavalry begin to work around the Royalist left.

The center cannot hold!


Sir Mungo leads Lawer’s over the hedge, takes the Strathbogie in the flank, routing them. Montrose is severely wounded and born from the field. The battle is over (at the beginning of turn ten), the Covenanters winning decisively.

The above was the most lop-sided victory, the Covenanters losing not a single point. In five attempts the Covenanters won three. In the two Royalist victories, they simply managed to run out the clock (make it to the end of turn 16 without giving up enough of Auldearn to the Covenanters OR losing 13 VP).

It is a challenging scenario for the Royalists and makes one appreciate that historically they came off with the win. I believe that I have put sufficient constraints on the Covenanters so it won’t result in a walk-over. They have to be well handled and get to the back courts of Auldearn by about Turn Eight to have a chance.

I have just set set up the sixth play-through with the cards stacked to cause the Gordons to enter early (turn four) and deep on the Covenanter flank. As this didn’t happen in any of the games, curiosity has gotten the best of me.  I’ll report on how this turns out in the next post.



6 thoughts on “Playing the Gardiner Gambit

  1. It’s interesting to see how closely gaming results can match historical results. A testimonial for all the research and practice involved in making sure this happens.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Bonnie. Sometimes thing work out the same. Many of the most decisive battles fought, however, would likely turn out differently had they been fought again. The thing I like about wargaming is you can do the same one over and over and see how one single event can chance the whole outcome. The very best part in this is that no humans (or horses) are killed or maimed no matter how many times you re-play.


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